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Hot Beats and Tune Outs: Atom Interferometry with Laser-cooled Lithium


Ushered forth by advances in time and frequency metrology, atom interferometry remains an indispensable measurement tool in atomic physics due to its precision and versatility. A sequence of four $\pi/2$ beam splitter pulses can create either an interferometer sensitive to the atom's recoil frequency when the momentum imparted by the light reverses direction between pulse pairs or, when constructed from pulses without such reversal, sensitive to the perturbing potential from an external optical field. Here, we demonstrate the first atom interferometer with laser-cooled lithium, advantageous for its low mass and simple atomic structure. We study both a recoil-sensitive Ramsey-Bord e interferometer and interferometry sensitive to the dynamic polarizability of the ground state of lithium.

Recoil-sensitive Ramsey-Bord e interferometry benefits from lithium's high recoil frequency, a consequence of its low mass. At an interrogation time of 10 ms, a Ramsey-Bord e lithium interferometer could achieve sensitivities comparable to those realized at much longer times with heavier alkali atoms. However, in contrast with other atoms that are used for atom interferometry, lithium's unresolved excited-state hyperfine structure precludes the the cycling transition necessary for efficient cooling. Without sub-Doppler cooling techniques. As as result, a lithium atomic gas is typically laser cooled to temperatures around 300 $\mu$K, above the Doppler limit, and well above the recoil temperature of 6 $\mu$K. This higher temperature gas expands rapidly during the operation of an atom interferometer, limiting the experimental interrogation time and preventing spatially resolved detection.

In this work, a light-pulse lithium matter-wave interferometer is demonstrated in spite of these limitation. Two-photon Raman interferometer pulses coherently couple the atom's spin and momentum and are thus able to spectrally resolve the outputs. These fast pulses drive conjugate interferometers simultaneously which beat with a fast frequency component proportional to the atomic recoil frequency and an envelope modulated by the two-photon detuning of the Raman transition. We detect the summed signal at short experimental times, preventing perturbation of the signal from vibration noise. This demonstration of a sub-recoil measurement with a super-recoil sample opens the door to similar scheme with other particles that are difficult to trap and cool well, like electrons.

An interferometer instead composed of $\pi/2$-pulses with a single direction of momentum transfer, can be sensitive to the dynamic polarizability of the atomic ground state. By scanning the frequency of an external driving field, such a measurement can be used to determine the atom's tune-out wavelength. This is the wavelength at which the frequency-dependent polarizability vanishes due to compensating ac-Stark shifts from other atomic states. Lithium's simple atomic structure allows for a precise computation of properties with only {\em ab initio} wave functions and spectroscopic data. A direct interferometric measurement of lithium's red tune-out wavelength at 670.971626(1) nm, is a precise comparison to existing `all-order' atomic theory computations. It also provides another way to experimentally determine the $S-$ to $P-$ transitions matrix elements, for which large correlations and small values complicate computations. Finally, a future measurement of lithium's ultraviolet tune-out wavelength of at 324.192(2) nm would be sensitive to relativistic approximations in the atomic structure description.

Atom interferometry simultaneously verifies existing atomic theory with measurements of atomic properties and searches for exotic physics lurking in plain sight. The techniques developed here broaden the applicability of interferometry and increase measurement sensitivity by simplifying cooling, increasing atom number and reducing the cycle time. Overcoming the current experimental limitations on interrogation time would allow for ultra-precise measurements of both the tune-out wavelength and the fine structure constant.

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